A major concern someone or other brings up against practically every suggestion to broaden the uses of cockpit voice recordings or add cockpit image/video recorders to the mix (both of these, especially the latter, being actions that accident investigators have long urged regulatory agencies and aircraft operators to implement in the name of air safety, and which the regulators and the operators have, for just as long, worked to weasel out of), and one which dates right back to when CVRs were first introduced, is that doing so would supposedly be a violation of the pilots' privacy.1
This concern seems somewhat misplaced:
- For pilots operating commercially (including those operating the vast majority of the flights that would fall under the aforementioned proposed recording-expansion mandates), the cockpit is their workplace and the aircraft an item of company equipment, and there has generally never been any expectation of privacy for workers in the workplace while on duty, especially not as regards the use of company-owned equipment.3
- For general-aviation pilots, the only time when they would be required to turn the recorded data over to anyone would be following an accident or incident, when the pilot(s) would have little reason (and, depending on the nature of the occurrence, may have been definitively rendered unable) to object to handing the data over.
Where, then, is the justification for these alleged concerns?
1: Other excuses offered for not installing cockpit image recorders are the large amounts of oh-so-expensive storage required to record and store cockpit video (which most likely stopped being a valid concern in the early 1970s, with the advent of miniaturised videotape systems with recording lengths of up to an hour - twice the length of contemporary CVRs! - and is a frankly ridiculous argument to make nowadays, when a tebibyte of solid-state flash memory, enough for dozens to hundreds of hours of high-res cockpit video from multiple vantage points, can be had for less than a hundred bucks in a package the size of a candy bar2), and the supposed uselessness of recorded image data for accident-investigation purposes (a contention easily refuted by a cursory glance at the many accidents and incidents that have prompted accident investigators to repeatedly and consistently urge for the installation of CIRs, as well as by five minutes’ or so thought about all the things that could be useful to an accident investigation and which would show up on a video recording, but not - or, at least, not identifiably - on an audio recording).
2: In fact, the storage for a CIR would probably be less expensive than that in a consumer-grade SSD, as flight recorders, which record data in strict sequential order and where data recoverability is far more critical than data access control, would not use the complex encryption and wear-levelling circuitry found in most consumer flash devices.
3: This is why (for example) it is both legal and ubiquitous for companies to install software on their work computers to remotely monitor what their employees are doing on said computers.